The pain in her chest was akin to a physical blow. It had always been this way, in life outside of family she was well-spoken and liked by many. In the circle of family suddenly she was reduced to the small child who hid when voices rose.
I just don’t understand why you have changed so much Callie Rose,” the woman’s voice was raspy from years of chain-smoking. “It’s like you don’t even love the Lord Jesus anymore.”
The accusation was one she had heard time and time again, that and why did not have babies and a husband. Callie had done the song and dance a thousand times, and every time she visited her childhood home she was reduced to a child, even though she was nearer to forty than fourteen.
The white trailer house she’d grown up in still housed Callie’s family and the last two of their brood of six. The youngest girl was twenty-two and the boy twelve.
The youngest girl was working at the Dairy Queen in town off the dusty highway in the central Oregon town hundreds of miles from any other. The boy was out for summer and sat on the patched carpet in front of the torso-sized boxed television, its volume turned up so that it was close to drowning out Callie’s mom’s voice.
“Are you listening to me?” Her mother asked and Callie drew her attention back to her mother. She was a squat woman with dark curly hair that was flecked with more grey than black at this point. Her mother pouted and Callie knew this was the next step in the routine they had played out for most of her adult years.
The dance had started Callie’s third year in college when Callie had started to change. Education was the great liberator of the poor. Poor people, poor ways as the saying goes and education was the only light in that dark world Callie came from. First in her family to finish high school, Callie was now an outcast to a family she visited less and less.
The tears brimmed on her mother’s eyelids, twisting the knife deeper into Callie’s gut. How could something, that was so obviously manipulation, still twist Callie into a ball of nerves?
“Well? Aren’t you gonna say something?” Her mother asked as tears left her lids and made little rivulets down her cheeks.
What could Callie say? Her words would only be twisted and turned in on themselves to the point that Callie didn’t know what way was up.
Callie’s own words were thick and clogged in her throat and they refused to gain purchase in the real world. Her mother stared across the hand-me-down oak table with the short leg at Callie. Silence ticked on as the world stood still in this high desert hellhole.
A trick her therapist taught her jumped to the front of Callie’s mind. Find three things that are brown. Callie glanced around the interior of the trailer house. Her mind ticked off the three things quickly, wood paneling, large-eyed cat clock on the wall, and a mixing bowl on the table.
“If you aren’t even going to look at me I am not gonna sit here and try to fix our relationship. I don’t even know who you are anymore. You aren’t any daughter of mine.” The words fell out of her mother’s mouth with a rattlesnake’s bite and venom that burned.
Her mother stood and bumped the table as she rose, “I would do anything for you children. I would give you every penny from my savings. You are my greatest joy and now my greatest sorrow. I love you more than anything in the world, but sometimes Callie Rose I just have to put up boundaries and look out for myself. I have to think about myself every once in a while, too.”
She moved from the kitchen table and Callie sat like a stone statue unmoving and mute. “Come on Peter, time to go outside. You’ve watched enough movies for today.” Callie heard her mother say from the living room.
The dark-haired boy, who was twenty-five years Callie’s junior, followed his mother without a word to the world outside the trailer.
The sliding glass door opened and then slammed back with a jolt as the pair walked into eight acres of sagebrush that ran along the highway. Callie watched them walk to the old plywood barn that held the few animals.
Callie knew what the next part of the dance was. She knew what she was expected to do next. She would stand and walk to the barn where she would apologize for the sins she had committed against her mother. They would hug and her mother would say how her children were her world and all she had ever done was to love them. Callie would nod and stay quiet. Then they would go back in the house and prepare dinner for when her father and sister returned from work.
Callie glanced out the sliding glass door, the hairline cracks from age were hidden by the dirty handprints and marks made by dogs’ tongues and noses. Callie felt bone-weary. The knife twisted and pinned her guts to the walls of her abdomen.
Callie looked at her two options, the sliding glass door to her mother or the front door to her car. She stood and walked to the door.